Saturday, October 22, 2022

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

If he hadn’t composed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – a Scherzo after Goethe’s tale, the score giving Mickey Mouse a starring role in Walt Disney’s Fantasia – then Paul Dukas (1865-1935) may well be but a footnote in musical history as the extremely self-critical composer who left a small catalogue of works (and who taught Olivier Messiaen), including an opera, a superb Symphony in C, the ballet La Péri, and an ambitious Piano Sonata – none of which are heard as often as they might be, especially the Symphony.

Sorcerer, a masterpiece, ended the concert in an atmospheric and graphic account under François­-Xavier Roth, the evening beginning with Dukas’s Polyeucte, at fifteen-plus minutes more a symphonic poem than the designated Overture, music with Wagnerian overtones, one might cite Liszt as well, generous of characterisation, lyric beauty, and drama, if without quite establishing itself as a go-to piece, despite many felicitous touches and this excellent Berlin Philharmonic rendition guided by Roth’s fastidious direction, music that promises much without quite delivering, whereas Sorcerer is a flood of invention.

Debussy’s La Damoiselle élue (with words by Dante Gabriel Rossetti), music that ravishes the senses, exquisitely beautiful, certainly when played like this – gorgeous flute and horn solos, for example – with Roth ensuring the quietest pianissimos and the shapeliest of phrases; voluptuous singing from the two soloists and the ladies of the chorus (Roth mouthing every syllable) for a magical and heart-stealing twenty minutes, rapt in the final measures.

Following Polyeucte, Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto enjoyed an intense, expressive and fiery account from Isabelle Faust, with a detailed partnering from the Berliners and Roth, soloist and conductor eye-to-eye as to the flexibility and clarity this great work needs; therefore, much volatility and passion were present, so too a tender approach to lyrical material, a lift to rhythms, and a persuasive ebb and flow throughout. The first movement was incident-packed, the cadenza excitingly projected and integral; the second’s formal Variations didn’t preclude suggestive songfulness, soulful intimacy, and percussive mechanisms were made lucid; the Finale, launched attacca, was like a rude awakening following the most sensual of dreams, the movement echoing the first in unpredictability, eloquence and emotion. The charge to the finishing post (revised ending) was thrilling to complete a compelling performance at once scrupulous yet not pedantic and revealing so many layers of communication. For an encore, Faust played a Bach slow movement in ink-still-wet fashion.

Anna Prohaska soprano
Adèle Charvet mezzo-soprano
Ladies of the Rundfunkchor Berlin

Berliner Philharmoniker: Julie Fuchs has to cancel due to illness – Anna Prohaska to step in.